Design & Make

In Pursuit of the Essential

by Evan Dublin October 12, 2015
ReadIn Pursuit of the Essential

The lens through which every product is examined before entering our store is authenticity. Which material is the product made of? How is it being manufactured? How practical is the function? How unique and timeless is the design—is it “inspired by” something iconic, or do we consider it a knock off? Of course, authenticity can mean different things to different people. But for us it’s at the root of all of our discussions.

As we set out to develop Kaufmann, our own line of original furniture and homewares, our approach became a simple yet focused pursuit: How do we distill something to its most essential? We wanted to celebrate the texture of a material—wood, porcelain, leather—and make the form and construction as effortless as possible. We also wanted to honor the iconic designers and artisans who we respect—Jasper Morrison, Hans Wegner, Paul McCobb, Bjorg Mogensen, Enzo Mari, Edith Heath, Marcel Breuer and Florence Knoll, to name a few—while offering our own perspective on what we think contemporary design is today.

I find the most successful designs are created in partnerships with knowledgeable and passionate craftspeople and manufacturers. It’s when you allow time for a design to go through a process to evolve that you come across something special. Many of our pieces underwent 3 to 5 variations before we found the right balance. It’s in the constant back and forth of conversations where you learn what to adjust and how to refine a technique that ultimately improves a design.

For our furniture, this meant pushing the structural integrity of each piece to be as thin and simple as possible, while remaining practical. I went through multiple rounds of sampling with the woodworkers, making slight increases to the proportions and revisions to the joinery until we arrived at an elegant balance. The team then tested the furniture in our offices to see how the wood would react to weather changes and everyday use—leading to more small modifications…

Kaufmann-bag-detail

Detail of the interior pocket of the new Kaufmann bag. Each is handmade using heavyweight canvas, premium leather and brass hardware, like this Riri zipper from Switzerland.

When designing our carry collection, we first looked at how each bag could accommodate to the wearer as easily and effortlessly as possible. Both the weekender and the tote have a soft structure and monochrome palette that give them a timeless quality. To create highly functional yet elevated pieces, we then added key details, like a thick leather panel along the bottom to protect against dirt and water, adjustable leather straps for comfortable carry and interior zippered pockets to keep everyday essentials discreetly close at hand. The bags were actually some of the most complex items in the collection to produce; there are four different companies involved in the process (canvas manufacturer, leather tannery, brass hardware and zipper suppliers), which required syncing up that many more production schedules.

Another learning experience came when we started developing candles with a small and respected manufacturer. The goal was to produce an all-natural candle using only pure essential oils and non-synthetic ingredients. The maker was extremely excited to develop something for us within these parameters, because most candles in the industry use chemicals (sometimes mixed with natural oils) to emulate scents and to make a fragrance more potent and less expensive to produce. Together, we figured out how to create a natural scent pairing that’s as potent as the other candles on the market and equally cost efficient.

We faced similar challenges when designing and developing our tabletop collection. Each piece was meant to be truly functional while also being made using a traditional and authentic hand-thrown technique. Most dinnerware on the market is either cast from a mold or made by jiggering profiles. But we love the imperfections and subtleties of something hand-thrown; it makes each piece feel one-of-a-kind. Once we found a manufacturer to partner with, the conversation turned to what was feasible in production on a large scale. The forms we ultimately developed are very intricate to create and take a true craftsperson to perfect.

Our approach while developing Kaufmann has been to distill each piece to its most minimal function and construction, then layer on understated details that we feel elevate the design and make it original. We discovered that this pursuit of the essential is not a fixed ideal but an evolving conversation that will deepen over time. The process, afterall, is always as important and interesting as the final product.

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